28 October 2013

The Triathlete's Garden

Last winter a triathlete moved in a few blocks away 

He bought a large home in the Washington Park area of Denver with a landscaped front yard. The first time I was introduced to him he presented himself as an Ironman athlete who most certainly planned to train and plan for more races that coming summer. He listed off his target races, mentioned that he was a single Dad with shared custody, and generally chatted about how much he enjoyed training.

All the while he chatted, I kept picturing that big home with the garden. Why had he bought that house? Sure it was four blocks from an excellent location to get in the running miles, but it was possibly too much to manage solo. I have always thought there should be a kind of designated housing for Ironman athletes. Some sort of complex with big garages, bigger kitchens, comfortable beds, a nice bath to shave the legs and no gardens to tend.

I watched that garden die over the summer. Weeds growing tall between the dead branches not removed in spring and plants not tended to in summer.  I pedaled by that garden on my cruiser bike to and from yoga and zumba class, watching it wither in neglect. A clear sign that the owner had other priorities. The training must be going well, I thought as the weeks passed, surely his A, B, and C races had come and almost gone by now.

Then one day in mid Fall that garden got ripped out. The occasionally mowed grass patch remained but the flower beds were torn up. Gone. There is no place in a triathlete's life for flowers. No putsing in the garden for an Ironman. Life is about a strict schedule of run / bike / ride, laundering of lycra, concocting kale smoothies and selecting recipes from the Feedzone cookbook.

Sometimes we learn our best lessons from watching others. I watched that garden throughout the spring and summer months as I myself headed out on long bike rides, traveled to week-long stage races, and spent hours writing on a computer. The garden became a symbol of a lifestyle. I confess I am a garden putser, so my own garden survived the brutal months of life as a road cyclist/fan. Now I too am paying the price.

"No I won't be at the race this weekend, I am painting my garage." I've been saying that for 2 months now, because it took me eight full days (there goes the weekend) to prep (the worst part of all!) and paint my garage and house trim. Add to that some gutter cleaning and repair, fence mending and painting, patio and brick repair - and you have a "former" cyclist who is happy to barely make it to yoga class twice a week.

I have always said we can be really good at three things at a time, with an additional two things marginally okay, another one or two half-assed, and then sadly neglectful of the rest. Yet most of us attempt to try to master about 6 things and fake all the rest, hoping no one will notice.
  • full time job
  • home-owner (with a well-maintained home)
  • parenting
  • married or "in a relationship"
  • athlete on a training schedule (with "goals")
  • healthy eater 
  • consistent dog walker
  • blogger/photographer (person with a time consuming hobby like bike racing)
  • community involvement/volunteering 
  • social critter (friends and extended family)
  • remembering to call your Mother
If you are successful at all eleven of these responsibilities - well I don't know you. Nor do I want to because you are too perfect and will only make me feel completely unaccomplished. I didn't even mention relaxation, or church (church - are you kidding me - it falls during the Cat 35+/4 race), or house cleaner/toilet cleaner or person with enough extra time to twitter their life away or read everyone else's posts on facebook.

I admit I am part of a new social subculture of people who are "facebook fakers". I am seriously expecting our formal greeting to be officially changed to - greeter: "How are you?" reply: "I posted it on Facebook." I live in fear of someone responding to me, "Well, I posted it on facebook, you didn't read my post? I am clearly not a priority to you." Oh but you are you are, I missed your post because it was buried under the hundred's of other political / must see video posts by other friends who are of no more a priority than you. I promise.

I simply cannot keep up with everything.  My garden is still growing! And my house is painted!

Do I get some brownie points for that? This is why I suggest not having a dog, child, wife, husband or mother; never signing up for that epic cycling event; and never owning a home or garden. Life sounds downright miserable at this point so perhaps giving up documenting a life on Twitter, Facebook or on a blog is a better choice. I gave up on the latter - blogging.

You see this was a long story about why I have not been blogging much lately. But hey - my house is now painted and I felt that wonderful all over body buzz (on par with having completed a century ride) after working the ladders for 9 straight hours yesterday. I hope that paint job lasts for three years, because next year I plan to ride my bike A LOT.

I want to go to France. They have this bike race called the Tour de France and it happens every July. Right smack dab in the middle of the summer!

I think I'll blog about it.

Juggling life's responsibilities, it's our shared human experience.

23 October 2013

Route of the 2014 Tour de France

THE route was announced!

Yes, I say that in a high pitched squeal. The route of the 2014 Tour de France (LeTour.com) was announced today in Paris, France. Yes, the promo video was released, yes the exact stages were announced, yes the Directeur Sportifs are now scouring their rosters for proper good domestiques.

Saturday July 5th to Sunday July 27th 2014, the 101th Tour de France, 3,656 kilometres in length.

Update 06 June 14:  Cycling is a team sport, or is it (Wiggins not going to race the 2014 TDF)

THE route
Start: England  |  Finish: France
Route Map of 2014 Tour de France.  Photo © A.S.O. click image to enlarge
THE 21 Stages

THE start village

Yorkshire is impressively spectacular landscape! (Also read: Tour de France 2014 stage 1 to be permanently signposted). Certainly the days preceding Stage 1 will be great fun, with team presentations, interviews and the worlds best cycling on local roads. Tickets for the Festival of Cycling, 4th – 6th July 2014, will be available at the beginning of November 2013, read more at www.festivalofcycling.org. There will also be a sportif event for amateur cyclists to ride on course.

THE climbs

Climb By Bike already has most of the 2014 climbs (with profiles) listed out for us: http://www.climbbybike.com/race.asp?Race=Tour2014 , including the top 10 ouches (hardest climbs of the 2014 Tour de France):
  1. Planche des Belles Filles
  2. Col de Palaquit
  3. Col de lIzoard
  4. Risoul - Station
  5. Port de Bales  
  6. Col du Portillon
  7. Col de Val-Louron Azet 
  8. Le Pla d'Adet  
  9. Col du Tourmalet 
  10. Hautacam
View down the Hautacam.  Photo by Karen Rakestraw at Pedal Dancer®
THE cobbles

Here are the 9 sections of cobbles to be included on Stage 5 of the 2014 Tour de France. Can you say Carrefour de l’Arbre(!)

9 sections of cobbles in 2014 Tour de France.  click image to enlarge
Cobbles of Carrefour de l’Arbre. Photo by Karen Rakestraw at Pedal Dancer®
THE opinion

I like the 2014 route. 

I like the emphasis placed on the planning and selection of riders by the Directeur Sportifs, on the expertise of the sprint coaches, on the importance of a team of well-rounded road racers, on the daily tactical decisions as the race situation changes, on the likelihood we will see much more of Marcel Kittel, Peter Sagan, and the French and Belgium riders who are masters at road stages. I also like the selection of nine new stage cities.

Nothing is more exciting as when I first glance over the route; imaging the challenges, the logistics, which riders will excel, how the teams should be built, and where the team buses will need to squeeze through. I love imaging the terrain and the toughest climbs. I love imaging where I would like to see the Tour de France.

My first impressions of the 2014 Tour route:
  • 4 countries! (England, Belgium, Spain and France)
  • Obviously intended to attract maximum number of fans  
  • Excited about three stages in cycling crazed Britain 
  • One could chase all the stages in the UK and be content never to hop the pond
  • Happy to see le Tour visit Ypres in Belgium; though sad remembrance of WWI
  • 9 sections, 15.4 kilometers of cobbles in Belgium/France
  • Long distances between stage starts and finishes this year
  • Requires very well orchestrated team support staff
  • Not a lot of big autoroute driving for the overworked bus drivers
  • Hard route on the media and the caravan personnel
  • Tough planning for cycling tour operators
  • Scarce multi-night stay overs 
  • We'll know who brought the best team by the Vosges mountains
  • I've always wanted to go to La Planche des Belles Filles (big stage)
  • They are flying through the Alps this year 
  • I liked climbing the Col de lIzoard, but it is in the middle of nowhere
  • I know nothing about Risoul, except it is 14 kilometers of steepness
  • They are bringing the TDF through the heart of tourist Provence - they rarely do that. 
  • I am not interested in a rest day in Carcassonne 
  • The stages through the Pyrenees are perfection! 
  • The climbing stages are shorter, so they may go harder with daring break aways
  • The penultimate stage is the only individual time trial (54km), followed by a long transfer
  • The area near Bergerac (location of the ITT), along the Dordogne River, is lovely
  • Only one day in or near Paris dashes all those weekend tour packages
  • Return of the classic afternoon finish on the Champs-Élysées - good!
Most excited about
  1. Tour start in England (this is the 4th time the TDF has visited England)
  2. The Pyrenees! And Stages 16, 17, 18, 19, and 20
  3. Etape du Tour on July 20th - Stage 18, Pau-Hautacam!
I would not want to be a tour operator or a bus driver for this Tour de France

And yet I can so clearly see how I would bring a group of cyclists from the Etape du Tour through the final stages, that I want to begin the planning right now!

The caravan approaches on Pla d'Adet on Le Tour day in 2005.  Photo by Karen Rakestraw at Pedal Dancer®
It's all about the teams and one very strong man

This year's route puts a whole knew emphasis on recent rider transfers. The 2014 Tour de France will be decided in the team selection. Looking at this route, I think the teams need to decide who their GC man will be ahead of time and solidly support him; quite risky. They won't be looking to load their team with 4 climbers (back to the drawing board for team Garmin-Sharp), and see whose form comes through. Two climbers (alternates) pacing the GC up climbs should do just fine (6 out of 21 stages are mountain stages with 5 high altitude finishes).

The teams will also not be looking to fill the ranks with time trialers - there will be no team time trial in 2014 and only one individual time trial which happens to be scheduled for Stage 20, out of 21, and is 54 kilometers long. Which means we will again witness skinny GC contenders no longer fitting their ideal TT bike fit, slipping around on their saddles trying to make up 40-second time gaps, when minutes could separate riders by the end of the day, and the outcome of Stage 20 could very well determine the final Tour podium. Oh the suspense.

There will be plenty of opportunities for glorious stage wins by the sprinters. Teams will need to give any prominent sprinter a good solid lead out. So if a team intends to support a sprinter, they will devote 3 out of 9 men to the task of winning stage victories. Or a sprinter will need to be excellent in taking advantage of other teams and also expert in placement.

Count it out: one GC, two climbers, one sprinter, two leadouts - traditionally that would leave space for 3 extremely hard working domestiques. Instead, I think for 2014 the D.S.s need to select and train a 4 to 5-man team of all-rounders who can act as domestiques, initial lead-out men, and form the protective train in the long distance stages (9 out of 21 stages are flat). We all know these five riders are often the most vulnerable to crashes and DNFs so they better be cross-trained as multi-taskers with good bike handling skills to avoid too many take-outs in the first crazy week through England and Belgium.

Which team will we all be watching in July?  Photo by Karen Rakestraw at Pedal Dancer®
This is why I think the 2014 Tour de France is about a good solid road racing team and an experienced GC contender

Tour Organizers have thrown in variety galore, and with visits to England, Belgium and a quick bypass through Spain, the riders and the fans will never be bored; with the winner being determined at some point in the last week. Plus I love when they include cobbles into the mix of the Tour de France. Paris-Roubaix is after all a race in FRANCE! Plus I like seeing the recon reports of Contador, and the likes, training on the old cobbled roads.

Still the 2014 Tour de France has five mountain summit finishes planned - that says a lot right there. If it weren't that so much time damage can be done during a climbing stage, I would think it possible for a someone other than a pure climber to win the Tour de France, but that is unlikely. We can look for the GC contender who makes it safely through week one, stays healthy through week two, and climbs well in week three; reserving enough energy for the long individual time trial and stepping onto the podium in Paris.

THE contenders

As with all the other tour previews, I can throw out names like Nibali, Rodriguez, Contador, Quintana, Froome, Chavanel, Costa, and Valverde. I can talk of the battle between Sagan, Kittel, Cavendish, and Greipel. But I am looking forward to that solo-breakaway that sticks, that epic triumph, that new young-gun who steps into the limelight. That glorious story that makes the Tour de France the very best Grand Tour. And motivates me to wake up ungodly early every morning during the month of July.

This year I am most interested in the Best Team standing on the final podium in Paris.

Preliminary startlist for the 2014 Tour de France via ProCycling Stats 

THE language lesson

Vosges [vohzh] (link to hear how to pronounce)

THE geography lesson 

The 2014 Tour de France will visit three mountain ranges in France:
  1. Vosges
  2. Alps
  3. Pyrenees
Mountain Ranges in France. Map via http://www.france-pub.com
THE presentation

I just love the formality of the French language translated into English, from the letour.com website comes this report of today's route presentation:

In front of more than 4,000 spectators, including some who are pretenders for victory, the route for the Tour de France 2014 was unveiled at the Palais des Congrès in Paris.... 

The most surprising thing for me at the presentation today was - man, Marcel Kittel (6'2", 1.89m) looks huge in a suit, either that or Mark Cavendish looks small in his cashmere sweater:
The usual suspects lined up in Paris today: Froome, Costa, Kittel, Cavendish, Riblon.

Video: Parcours 2014 en 3D / The 2014 route in 3D by tourdefrance

18 October 2013

Boulder Cup Cyclocross

I went to another bike race last weekend

This race day included an UCI sanctioned race at the end of a long full day of racing. A day which also had a huge turnout for most of the amateur categories. As is typical of early-season cross races in Colorado, the weather was perfect (last night we had our first snow in Denver).

My complete album of photos can be viewed here: Pedal Dancer Images - Boulder Cup, Sunday  (or in slideshow). See other photos from fellow photographers at 303Cycling here. See the Boulder Cup Race Results here.

Today I share the anatomy of a sand pit fall at Valmont Bike Park in Boulder, Colorado. Known to be the location of the 2014 USA Cyclo-cross National Championships this January 8-12, and you can bet that this long stretch of sand will be included in the course. Sometimes I avert my camera lens when I see a fall, instinctively caring more about the rider, but for this one I kept snapping ...

All photos below by  Karen Rakestraw at Pedal Dancer® click any image to enlarge

album of photos: Pedal Dancer Images - Boulder Cup, Sunday

Oh and Jeremy Powers (Rapha-Focus) won the Mens UCI Elite race on Sunday.
Jeremy Powers  Photo by Karen Rakestraw at Pedal Dancer®

Full results Victory Circle Graphix Boulder Cup, October 13, 2013

I like this picture of Ryan Trebon
Ryan Trebon.  Photo by Karen Rakestraw at Pedal Dancer®
And Jamie Driscoll
James Driscoll  Photo by Karen Rakestraw at Pedal Dancer®

And here is a nice one of VeloNews Tech reporter Leonard Zinn riding his Zinn bicycle. Leonard is a regular at the local CX races.
Leonard Zinn  Photo by Karen Rakestraw at Pedal Dancer®
And because I am a big big fan of Cosmo of Cyclocosm, for Behind the Barriers: How The Race Was Won: Boulder Cup.

08 October 2013

Cyclocross in the Mountains

Colorado Cyclocross

I went to a cyclocross race last Saturday in Frisco, Colorado. It was one of those days when I woke up excited to get the camera gear ready in the morning and pull out my warm boots, coat, hat and gloves. I knew a dusting of snow had fallen in the local mountains the night before and the aspen leaves would still be turning their golden color. I craved that perfect combo for a photographer.

With a warm cup of coffee in hand, I loaded up my dog in the car, turned up the music and enjoyed the drive up I-70 to Summit county. The scenery from the car window was spectacular along my route. My excitement ratcheted up a notch when I turned into the parking lot at the Frisco Nordic center to the sight of cars loaded with bikes on racks - that familiar sign that I had found the bike race.

I slung my camera and extra lens over my shoulder and approached. I heard the familiar sound of The Voice of Colorado Cyclocross, Larry Grossman, over the loud speaker and exhaled - all is right I thought, the race is in progress. I felt the sun on my shoulders and looked skyward. Where is the sun, the light, the barriers, the run-up? Where should I begin shooting a day at the race.

I heard the heckles, saw the down jacketed spectators with beers already in hand. I saw my familiar friends - Dejan, Shawn, Mike - those photographers who gather this time of year to shoot the races, to capture those racers whom I admire so much for showing up and racing in all conditions. The ones who make it look so easy while on course and yet so wiped out by the time they cross the finish line. Giving evidence that they gave their all.

I never know what I am going to capture on the day. I see so much through my lens, and yet I usually take away far more memories than photos, even though those photos end up totaling in the thousands (taking me hours to sort through later). The best times are when the CX racer is so exceptional that what I see forces me to lower my camera and give a cheer instead of pressing the shutter button. That happens frequently at a cyclocross race in Colorado.  

Here is a photo that captured the mood from last Saturday's Frisco CX. This coming Sunday I will be at the race in Boulder  (Boulder Cup, Valmont Park GOLD Flyer) (CX Calendar). See you there.

See entire album of 268 photos from Frisco CX here: Pedal Dancer Images

Yes - we live here; CX in Colorado.  Photo by Karen Rakestraw for Pedal Dancer®
More photos: (click any image to enlarge)

03 October 2013

Rest in Peace Amy

Very sad news today of Amy Dombroski's death

It was the sentence that once read, takes your breath away, so you read it twice, because it can't be true. It can't. But it is. Amy Alison Dombroski was killed in a bike accident today in Belgium.

I remember her smile, her friendly ways, and her amazing capabilities. Rest in peace Amy.

Amy Dombroski, photo taken on Saturday, 8 September 2012.  Photo by Karen Rakestraw at Pedal Dancer®

Twenty-six years old, Amy was an American cyclocross racer for team Telenet-Fidea. Born in Jericho, Vermont, she split her time in recent years between Boulder, Colorado and Belgium.

VeloNews reported Dombroski killed in training crash which occurred as Amy was motor-pacing behind a scooter in Belgium and collided with a truck Thursday afternoon. The scooter driver was uninjured. VeloNews reported the accident was in Sint-Katelijne-Waver, which is outside of Mechelen, north of Brussels. Reports from Belgium report the accident was along the Werchtersesteenweg (N21) between Betekom and Werchter, southeast of Sint-Katelijne-Waver.

Amy had just returned from the United States to Belgium on September 30th.

Please read: Crossland: The gaping hole left by Amy Dombroski, By Dan Seaton of VeloNews, and also Remembering the Life and Career of Amy Dombroski, By Molly at Cyclocross Magazine. Or the (translated) solemn announcement on her team website.

It is almost unimaginable to think of her bright smile, youth, and promise taken so prematurely. And of the unbearable grief her family and fiance must be feeling. Life is short and too often fragile.

The Amy Dombroski Memorial (facebook page, in English)

02 October 2013

Colorado Gold

Changing Leaves - Fall Foliage

Fall has come to Colorado. The season when the nights are cooler, the skies crystal blue, and the leaves begin to fall. But not before they give us a tremendous show of color. Here in Colorado we may not have the variety of hardwoods to match the East Coast, but we have aspen trees, nicknamed "quakies" after the rustling sound of the small leaves, which turn brilliant gold in fall.

The aspen trees stand in beautiful sharp contrast to the green pine trees and blue skies of our local mountains. Tourists and locals drive to the mountains in fall to catch a glimpse of the majesty. Last Sunday I drove an hour and a half from Denver to the town of Breckenridge to drive and hike on nearby Boreas Pass. An easy but long day trip this time of year (because of traffic and popularity).
Location of Boreas Pass west of Denver, Colorado (click image to enlarge)
Boreas Pass is a dirt road connecting the town of Breckenridge to the town of Como 

Offering spectacular views, there are no commercial buildings or homes along the pass, just hikers and bikers. Closed in winter due to snow, driving the pass (which is well maintained) is nice because speeds are slower than on the paved roads through the more popular fall foliage destinations in Colorado.

Some of the popular roads to view the changing leaves in Colorado in fall include:

  • Marroon Bells (shuttle bus and fee may be required, more info)
  • Castle Creek Road (Rd 15)
  • Carbondale - Redstone - Marble - Paonia (CR 133) (McClure & Keebler Pass)
  • Independence Pass (Highway 82) 
Salida/Crested Butte
  • Cottonwood Pass - glorious on a bike, long section of dirt with pavement. (Rd 209/306, west of Buena Vista)
Estes Park (recent flood damage)
  • Rocky Mountain National Park (dusk and dawn are the best time to hear the elk bugle)
  • Peak to Peak Scenic Highway (CR 72 + CR 7) (approach from Blackhawk or up Boulder Canyon)
  • Note: Road damage is extreme on the road through Lyons to Estes Park, and in Jamestown.
Steamboat Springs
  • Steamboat Springs - Buffalo Pass - Walden (CR 38)
  • Take the gondola up the ski area (or ride) and mountain bike down
Summit County
  • Boreas Pass (dirt road), with side hikes
  • Short hike to Rainbow Lake near the town of Frisco 
  • The bike trails in the area are still clear
Dates of changing fall leaves map from 9News.com (click image to enlarge)
The prime time for seeing the leaves change in Colorado is at the end of September or early October. Allow lots of time for traffic on the way home.

Late Season viewing (in October) is best in southern Colorado, including Telluride and Ouray, also Cripple Creek. There are several areas along the I-70 corridor where you will be able to see the golden leaves as you drive through on the interstate highway, including the cities of Georgetown and Vail.

Some of the leaves at higher altitude have already turned, it appeared to me that Guanella Pass, outside of Georgetown, (Rd 352) will likely turn this weekend. Also the mountains are expecting some light snow on Friday night which should make for wonderful photography (and fun racing at the Frisco CX race this Saturday).

Many of these paved roads are great for road bike riding as well, but perhaps not as enjoyable with the heavy car traffic during peak viewing weekends. Some of my favorite rides are pedaling along the Peak to Peak Highway (but this area suffered road damage from recent floods) and from Carbondale to Paonia, or over Independence Pass, or Cottonwood Pass.

There is a strong correlation between aspens and good bike trails 

It was fun to hike the side trails where I have previously mountain biked on Boreas Pass. The Pass is also home to three winter cabins for rent, part of the summit huts system (as opposed to the 10th Mountain division hut system). The huts are located on the summit of the pass. The weather is already much cooler in the mountains of Colorado and a light dusting of snow covered the surrounding peaks. Enough snow to highlight distant trails I longed to hike or explore.

Boreas Pass is located on Rd 10 and 33/404 between Breckenridge and Como, the journey is 20 miles (one-way). The road peaks at 11,493' (3,503 m) elevation. Just across the valley are five peaks over 14,000 feet. Called 14ers, they include: Mt. Lincoln, Bross, Democrat, Cameron and Quandary Peak. See a map of all the 14ers in Colorado. How many have you hiked? www.14ers.com/map

Fourteeners near Boreas Pass, see full map  (click image to enlarge)
CDOT (Colorado Department of Transportation) offers some tips on driving to see the changing leaves. Or read Fall Colors: Five Colorado towns that glow with the gold, by The Denver Post Travel. Boreas Pass has an Annual Boreas Pass Railroad Day in August.

Photographs I took of the changing aspen leaves on Boreas Pass last weekend:   
All Photos by Karen Rakestraw of Pedal Dancer® using my Pentax K-5 with one 18-135 zoom lens, no cropping or touching up. This is what I experienced, although I wish I could add smell and the sound of the quaking leaves for you. Thanks to @Biff_Bruise for the inspiration - via a tweet - to visit Boreas Pass last Sunday. (please click images to enlarge)

All this beauty within 20 miles!